Canadian Anti-Hate Network
The recent vandalism of a Toronto synagogue is only the latest incident in a series of similar incidents targeting Canada’s religious communities over the course of the pandemic.
Over the past week alone, an Ontario mosque was also robbed and vandalized, while a monument to Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims was defaced in British Columbia.
On Wednesday, August 18, the Toronto Police Service report receiving a call for Mischief to Religious Property at the location of the Beth Sholom Synagogue. Over the course of the night, a man allegedly attended the building and vandalized the area with antisemitic graffiti, including a spray-painted swastika.
The suspect’s identity is unknown at this time and he is described by police as a man, 5’8” with a thin build and was wearing blue jeans, a dark t-shirt, baseball cap, black running shoes, and a black backpack.
“After consultation with the service's specialized Hate Crime Unit, the investigation is being treated as a suspected hate-motivated offence,” police said in a statement.
According to police, when suspected hate-motivated offences are reported to police, the investigation will be led by a “Divisional investigator.” The Hate Crime Unit will be made aware and specialized officers from that unit will support the investigation as needed.
If an alleged criminal offence is committed and is believed to be motivated by bias, prejudice or hate, when a person is charged and convicted of the offence, the judge will take into consideration hate as an aggravating factor when imposing a sentence.
Charges like wilful promotion of hatred and advocating genocide are hate speech offences that require the attorney general’s consent, the police service added.
“Staff and visitors to our synagogue were shown a chilling symbol of hate: a swastika,” Rabbi Aaron Flanzraich said in a statement about the incident. “It, along with graffiti, was spray-painted alongside the main entrance of the building. As the police swiftly responded and our collective shock settled, we realized that this is far from being done.
“Long after the offensive images are removed, we will be left with the memory and message of it: antisemitism is not something distant, found only in headlines and statistics. As of this morning, it’s on our front step.”
The act brought condemnation from the community and public figures alike. With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Rob Ford, Toronto Mayor John Tory and more all issuing statements against the senseless act.
Tragically, vandalism of this nature is nothing new, and is part of a string of seemingly unrelated incidents recently taking place throughout Canada.
Across The Country
Also in Ontario, the Baitul Jannah Islamic Centre also became the victim of a break-in and subsequent vandalism. According to police, it is believed that the break-in occurred over Saturday night and resulted in the theft of donation boxes and a digital recording system.
Scarborough Member of Provincial Parliament Doly Begum posted photos of the incident to her Twitter account Sunday afternoon.
“This isn’t an isolated incident. Baitul Jannah has been targeted at least three times before. Yet, no actions have been taken to further the investigation or to address the rising hate crimes that our communities are facing.”
Police say there is no evidence this was a hate-motivated incident at this time, but “out of an abundance of caution,” has notified its Hate Crime Unit to support the investigation.
“The investigation is in the early stages and we will continue to update the public as it progresses,” a TPS spokesperson told CAHN.
“Police are aware of previous incidents at this location including break and enters in March, April and June 2019. An individual was charged in relation to these. It is too early to say whether these incidents are linked to the most recent report.”
In British Columbia, a moment built to commemorate those who travelled aboard the Komagata Maru to Canada was vandalized. The names of the ship’s passengers, carved into stone, were covered in white handprints sometime between Saturday evening and Sunday morning.
The monument was built to remember the 400 Sikh, Muslim, and Hindu people who sailed to Canada aboard the Komagata Maru in 1914, but the vast majority were turned away after months of waiting in the harbour, despite being British citizens.
Crew and passengers of the Komagata Maru. Source: Vancouver Archives
The government has since admitted it was a decision based on racism.
“I’ll be quite frank — It was sadness and anger, but this wasn’t the first time the Komagata Maru memorial has been defaced,” Jindi Singh, a descendant of one of the passengers told News 1130.
“To see the memorial has been defaced the way it has, has been quite upsetting. This memorial has been here for a number of years, it was the first time I’ve walked down with my family to see it, and it was a shock to us.”
Not only taking place at areas of importance to religious and ethnic communities across Canada, other targets were also selected to bear hate symbols.
In Montreal, two Liberal Party of Canada candidates’ campaign signs had swastikas scrawled over their likenesses. Both are reported to be Jewish.
“Pretty sad to see antisemitism hitting the campaign on day three,” Mont-Royal MP Anthony Housefather wrote in response. “I can assure whoever did this that no swastika is going to scare me or stop me from speaking up for Jewish Canadians.”
While Rachel Bendayan, the Liberal candidate for Outremont said, “Whatever your political views, spreading hateful and violent messages is not the way to go.”
“We’ve seen the road that the politics of the far-right leads us to in the US and around the world.”
An Ontario school also fell victim to hateful, antisemitic graffiti the same week.
“I am saddened about the antisemitic graffiti recently found on Charlton Public School. However, I am hopeful, because we have the solution,” Thornhill Trustee David Sherman said on Twitter, adding that education is the best tool against hate.
“We know that Holocaust education works and is our first line of defence in the fight against antisemitism.”
The Vancouver Police Department is investigating the vandalism and said in a statement it is “treating the troubling incident as a possible hate crime.”